Defense, versatility help DeAndre Liggins stand out in Orlando

ORLANDO | DeAndre Liggins knows what kind of player he is.

From his career at Kentucky to stints with the Orlando Magic, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, Liggins’ calling card has always been defense.

It’s a role he embraces — one that got him drafted by Stan Van Gundy in 2011 — and after a successful week with the Detroit Pistons at the Orlando Pro Summer League, the forward may have turned some heads with another skill: versatility.

“I’ve played pretty well, did a lot of everything,” said Liggins. “They had me change my position to the one, but I’m capable of playing the one a little bit — I played that in the D-League.”

After bouncing between Orlando, Oklahoma City and Miami in three nondescript seasons, Liggins was arrested in ugly domestic assault case in 2013. Understandably, that kind of stink scared teams off — though he did play one game for the Heat this season.

Consequently, he hasn’t done much in the NBA, but Liggins has improved as an all-around player thanks to spending much of the past two seasons in the D-League.

“That’s good,” he said of his versatility. “That’s come from playing in the D-League, getting repetition, getting comfortable with the ball in my hands.”

The 6-foot-6 forward spent two seasons in the D-League, first with Tulsa in 2012-13 and again last season with Sioux Falls — where he was named D-League Defensive Player of the Year.

He didn’t shoot well in 42 games this past season (14 points on 39 FG% and 33 3P%), but he did flash some of that versatility he showed this week by averaging five assists, seven rebounds and three steals for the Skyforce.

“That’s what I hang my hat on,” he said. “The other things are going to come in to play, but I take defense first, knock down open shots and do whatever it takes to win.”

When it came to the Pistons in Orlando, Liggins was one of the more surprising stories. He lived up to his reputation as a sticky defender, forcing turnovers and being a gnat all week long. The Pistons have a laundry list of needs and a perimeter defender like Liggins is near the top, but it was what he did on Wednesday and Friday that caught him some attention.

With Peyton Siva sidelined by a hamstring injury, undrafted rookie Ian Miller was the only point guard left on the roster.So Liggins got his chance to show what he’d learned.

He started at small forward both games before sliding over to point guard with the reserves. The results were mixed — his assist:turnover ratio was 10:8 in those two games — but his overall line from the week was a very balanced 11 points, five rebounds and four assists.

He shot 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line, too. Both surprising numbers considering his history in Sioux Falls and Kentucky, where his job was defend while Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones take care of the rest. While he has made improvements in recent years, if he’s going to make a roster, it’s going to happen because of his defense.

“I’m always going to be a defensive guy — a good role player,” he said. “I’m a winning player, so sometimes it’s never about numbers with me. It’s about the little things — rotating on pick and rolls, knowing coverage, and doing little things.”

Liggins summer job search is continuing in Las Vegas with the Los Angeles Clippers summer league team. There isn’t much room on the Pistons roster today, but his play in Orlando may have been enough to earn him an invite to training camp — that is, unless another team doesn’t beat Detroit to the punch.

“There’s no excuses, you’ve just got to do whatever it takes and live with the results,” said Liggins, who joined the Clippers on Saturday after playing with Detroit in Orlando on Friday. “That’s what I’m trying to do, if I’m tired or not, just keep pushing through it and it’ll work out for me in the long haul.”

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